LONDON (Reuters) - Jessica Ennis, teary but euphoric in victory, became Britain’s face of the Games on Sunday as sporting fever swept a proud host nation basking in its greatest Olympic day in more than a century.
“Hep, hep hooray,” declared the best-selling tabloid Sun newspaper after Ennis won the heptathlon on a gold-rush Saturday that saw ‘Team GB’ snap up six Olympic titles - their biggest single day haul since 1908.
Photographs of the Golden Girl, down-to-earth and smiley, were plastered all over the newspapers in her moment of triumph - wrapped in the Union Jack flag and hailed as “Queen of the Games” and “Superwoman”.
Seb Coe, the chairman of Games organizers LOCOG and a vice president of athletics’ world governing body, felt London’s ‘Super Saturday’ had trumped the ‘Magic Monday’ that lit up the 2000 Sydney Olympics in his list of all-time moments.
“This did edge ahead of it (Sydney),” the double Olympic 1,500 meters champion told reporters on Sunday. “There was a narrative of infectious success. It was the greatest day in sport I have ever witnessed.”
Colin Moynihan, a former Olympic rowing cox who is the chairman of the British Olympic Association (BOA), said the challenge now was to do even better and surpass all past performances.
“We are absolutely determined to make sure that not only is this remembered as a great Games for Team GB, but it must be translated in the second week into the greatest Games,” he told reporters at Team GB House.
After a first few days marked by an absence of Britons on top of the podium, with the media fretting that countries like Kazakhstan were ahead in the medals table, the first home gold came on Wednesday and turned into a deluge.
Britain had moved up to third overall after the eighth day with 14 golds, seven silvers and eight bronzes.
The tally rose again on Sunday when Ben Ainslie won the Finn title to become the most successful Olympic sailor with four career gold medals and a silver.
In Beijing 2008, where Britain finished an unprecedented fourth overall, the country collected 19 golds and 47 medals from 11 sports.
Many of the successes this time around have come from female athletes and Moynihan agreed that ‘girl power’ had been a feature of the first week.
”We at the BOA recognize and applaud that,“ he said, ”We have seen immense progress made in some sports, not least in rowing where three out of four gold medals came from the women’s groups.
“We really hope that is translated into far higher levels of participation by women at all levels of sport. We must carry forward the incredible example set by women in terms of performance here into the wider sporting world,” he added.
“We will be campaigning for that.”
In the likes of photogenic former world champion Ennis and cycling gold medalist Victoria Pendleton, the country has the role models to ‘inspire a generation’ of budding female athletes.
“Jess the best day ever,” declared the Daily Mail. “Britain’s dripping in gold.”
“Happy and Glorious,” boomed the Independent after a day when the national anthem was heard repeatedly on the podium and sung by crowds cheering every new medal.
Two golds in rowing and one at the cycling velodrome were followed by a hat-trick of victories in athletics from Ennis, Greg Rutherford (long jump) and Mo Farah.
Farah’s was the first 10,000 meters gold by a British runner.
“Their extraordinary efforts have brought rapture to streets, parks and living rooms in London and all over the country if not the planet,” said London mayor Boris Johnson in a statement.
For once the mayor, never one for under-statement or a lack of hyperbole, sounded almost restrained.
Writing by Tony Jimenez/Alan Baldwin; Editing by Alastair Himmer